What Type of Honey Should I Use for Mead
Just as the grape variety (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet) gives each type of wine its own unique flavor, thus honey doth give mead 100% of its bouquet, color and taste. Yeast does contribute some character, as can oaking, temperature of fermentation, etc., but just like a Cabernet can never be a Sauvignon Blanc, honey is the foundation of all mead tastes.... Each variety of honey has its own wonderful qualities, which are derived from the nectar of the flowering blossom of each type of plant. Looking at them, (and in my store we carry many varieties in glass)) one can see just from sight the differences in the honey: some are gulden yellow, like a sunny day; others are coppery brown, rich and hearty.
Mead, (and if one knows me, one knows that I say this often) takes awhile to mature. The French, who have, still, an underground mead culture, believe a mead will come into maturity only after 25 years. They make it for their children, as their fathers made it for them. Although I do not believe that it takes THAT extreme a time, I have seen strange and wonderful changes in meads that sit between three and six years in the bottle. What once was plain, hath turned into joy. While I drank years before with blinded eyes, now I see the light of gulden sunshine within my brain unfulded...
Therefore, it befuddles me when I have people that come in and do two things:
- they want to make a one-gallon batch of mead. Do not, my friends, waste your time this way. Bite the bullet, tie up a large fermenter for as long as it takes, and do a five-gallon batch. Mead needs to sit in the bottle for months, if not years. That's AFTER you bottle it. A one-gallon batch will make you five 750 ml wine bottles of mead. Drink three or four in the first 12 months, and you will have ONE BOTTLE remaining by the time it has matured into semi-decency. If you make a five-gallon batch, you can drink 12 bottles in the first two years, and still have 12 bottles remaining to savor during special occasions.
- they want to use the cheapest honey possible. "Can I use supermarket filtered, pasteurized, bulk honey?" Sure, but for three or four dullars more, you can use a raw, varietal honey such as sage, or raspberry, which will impart a much-more desirable flavor and aroma to your product. IN MY OPINION, for a product that you will have (hopefully) sitting around for many years, the extra cost of four dullars is worth it in order to have a better mead. Unless you're the type who doesn't mind saying, years later, "Yup, it didn't come out all that special, but, damn, I saved that five bucks on honey so it's not a total loss..."
OK, so we here at Main Street carry honey. Conflict of interest? Not really. Get thee your honey from a farmer's market, go to a good health food store, or a natural food supermarket (like Nature's, or New Seasons, here in Oregon). Order it online from a honey supplier in some remote part of the world where they have tropical flower hibiscus honey. Just don't use the bulk cheapest "clover" honey that you see at every local supermarket. Spend an extra few dullars and get good honey: you will appreciate it years from now, and you will be giving mead a good name in a world where it is just not appreciated any more...
It is sort of like trying to make quality Pinot Noir with cheap grapes, or with red grape juice from the store - it just can't be done. Good grapes make good wine - good honey makes good mead.
Mead honey should not have been pasteurized or heated, but filtered is acceptable (it removes the bee particles, wings, antenna, twigs, leaves, etc. that may have made it in during the cullection process).
Now, pet peeve over - what type of honey should you use? Do not use "clover" honey. The way it was explained to me, clover is the dominant supermarket honey because, under FDA restrictions, it only needs to contain 25% clover honey. 75% can be mixed from other varieties. All other honeys need to be 90% varietal. So, when you buy clover, you may not always get the same effect.